30 Rock: Series Finale

By February 5, 2013TV Reviews

The music that closes out 30 Rock's series finale, Jenna's (Jane Krakowski) rendition of "Rural Juror" from the titular Kevin Grisham Broadway adaptation, at first seems like a curious choice to leave as the penultimate impression for the goodbye episode of one of the best comedy series of the last decade—the lyrics are goofy, with its bombardment of words that rhyme with either "rural" or "juror," and the song itself is a reference to a not frequently recurring joke that saw its genesis way back in season one. But thinking on it a bit more and you'll realize that both the episode and the idea of "The Rural Juror" are instead a thematic surrogate for 30 Rock's trademark cartoonish absurdity. It's that absurdity, that hilarious irreverence that has remained consistent through seven seasons that is being given a sendoff in the final episode of both 30 Rock and TGS.

It's a perfectly fitting goodbye for a show that has hilariously woven a self-referential thread together with irreverence throughout its entire run. As Jenna belts out "I will never forget you, Rural Juror" we are witnessing both an emotional climax for the egotistical blonde co-lead of TGS as well as a chance for the creators, cast, crew, and viewers to say goodbye to Liz Lemon and co.

But before everyone can say goodbye, a lot of existential angst has to be worked out. After the cancelation of TGS in last week's excellent "A Goon's Deed in a Weary World," everyone associated with the show deals with the new hands they've been dealt to varying degrees of failure. Liz (Tina Fey), now a stay at home mom, tries to handle extended downtime for likely the first time in her professional life, but her impatience with other moms on internet message boards (on which a question about where to find "a girl's bike" elicits accusations of being a "Nazi" and "Double Nazi") sends her back to 30 Rockefeller Plaza to pitch her story as a show to the new NBC President, Kenneth (Jack McBrayer). Unfortunately for Liz, her pitch is a bit too progressive for Kenneth, whose list of No-No words (woman, edgy, shows about shows, Justin Bartha, among others) ensures any future NBC programming will fit into the CBS lowest common denominator equation. It's a depth to which Liz doesn't care to sink, but when she discovers that Criss (James Marsden) is just as upset about having to work in an office as she is about having no office in which to work, she decides to sacrifice for her family. 

Liz isn't the only one who comes to Kenneth for clarity as Jack (Alec Baldwin) gradually comes to realize that his new role as GE CEO, a position for which he has strived since working under Don Geiss (Rip Torn), isn't making him as happy as he should be. Despite excelling at every aspect in his life—business, hobbies, hair, convincing Nancy (Julianne Moore) and Elisa (Salma Hayek) to engage in a threesome—Jack can't shake the feeling that something is lacking. Realizing that achieving what he's supposedly always wanted has left him unfulfilled shakes the GE boss to the core, a situation that is only exacerbated when his mentee, Liz, comes asking for help to get back into TV. 

"I could make a few calls, see what bridges I haven't burned," Jack starts in, "but I won't." If work hasn't made him happy, he insists that it won't make Liz happy either, but after seven years of telling her to strive for more than her quaint, content existence, Liz is upset with the mentor who now blames her "worming [her] way into [his] brain" and not allowing him to be satisfied with mere career achievements. "So we've ruined each other," says Liz. And with that, their seven-year relationship comes to an end. 

But that's only the first major emotional blow landed by the finale as Liz's official last day at TGS, the contractually obligated 150th episode that NBC needs to avoid a clause in Tracy Jordan's contract that would pay him $30 million, sees her trying to extinguish the usual fires—a lazy writing staff, trying to wrestle the lunch decision away from "bisexual, part Inuit, 51-year old" Lutz's (J.D. Lutz) Blimpies suggestion—on top of trying to keep Tracy from bailing on work as he is wont to do. The only difference between Tracy's past flakiness and his latest efforts at skipping work is that his motivation this time around has nothing to do with self-importance and everything to do with an inability and unwillingness to say goodbye. 

Liz seeks Tracy out in the same strip club where they first met, and the resulting exchange is the most surprisingly effective and emotional moment of the show's history . Tracy confronts a truth he's struggled with since childhood and Liz is brutally but necessarily honest with him when she says that sometimes, despite the best intentions of everyone involved, goodbyes really are for good. Knowing not just the journey that both Liz and Tracy have been through, but also the real-life relationship between Fey and Morgan, one can't help but wonder if the tears in Lemon's eyes aren't those of Fey herself, not wanting to accept but also not wanting to be ignorant of the fact that from now on, things aren't going to be the same.

Even with Tracy complying and getting back to work, Liz still has to deal with the despondent Jack, who, according to Pete (fully committed to faking his own death after the final TGS), is showing all the trademarks of a man about to commit suicide.  This shakes Liz out of her grudge just in time to find Jack plummet into the river ("Wait—there's so much left to live for!  Don't you want to know how Mad Men ends?") onto a newly purchased boat that will take him out to sea where he will have time to discover what brings him bliss, which for the first time in his life, is not an acronym for "beautiful ladies in short shorts."

Before he left, Jack wanted to ensure that he wouldn't just be another name on Liz's grudge list so that he could make it clear she knew that she was the only thing that has made him happy in the last seven years. Liz's response of "I love you too, Jack" is the best possible capstone for a relationship that has been as touching and intimate as it has been hilarious and speaks volumes to a show that can whip out the L-word in a way that is beautiful and perfect without being tainted by even a hint of romance that, in context, would've been tonally incongruous and emotionally cheap. The touching exchange and Jack's almost immediate return from his departure—inspired by his next big idea, clear dishwashers—is wonderfully indicative of the fine balance between heart and humor that the show has always displayed, most especially and skillfully here at the end. 

And to go out on a high note, 30 Rock concludes with a post-credits closer that exemplifies everything that made the show great. In one brief moment that sees an un-aged Kenneth listen to a pitch from Liz Lemon's great granddaughter, the writers have tied up one of the show's longest recurring jokes, taken one final swipe at the absurdity of NBC's programming, and created an homage to one of the most divisive series finales, St. Elsewhere. Brilliant to the very end.